Criticism, traditionally has been seen as a very bad thing that can happen to a person or to an organisation. Criticism exposes how bad things are and shows a sign of dissatisfaction. It does tarnish the reputation and credibility and many times forces people to lose confidence and guides them to fail even further. Many of us hate criticism and would try really hard to avoid it. We tend to use a variety of techniques such as being offensive (as many say, “offence is the best form of defence”) to trying to be friendly (so that people do not criticise straight into the face). Unfortunately not many of us think about facing criticisms and using them to our favour.
How to utilise criticism within a group:
Individually, it is relatively easy to handle criticism, because it just requires a mindset change of a single person. But it is extremely difficult to cultivate this habit within a group. A generic group is a mix of all sorts of personalities and it is a mammoth task to educate the group to handle criticism constructively. But it is not impossible if we follow a structured approach.
Criticism cannot be tolerated by people because of the ego we all possess. Though it is impossible to eliminate ego completely, we can keep in under constant check. When ego is under control, there is very less chance that we will misinterpret criticisms. The best way to control ego levels is to organise a team building event where people get together, make mistakes and also learn to work with each other as a team taking feedback.
Organise peer reviews:
Peer reviews are a great way to inject feedback about a person or his work. Peer reviews also help in making people within the group realise that everyone makes mistakes. Whenever i have designed something major, I call for a peer review with my colleagues and openly challenge them saying “Spot three mistakes and i shall get you a cake!”. Such an attitude towards peer review doesn’t create any friction between people within the group and the feedback they provide works well towards realising the end goal.
Almost in all cases, there should be a mediator who monitors the group dynamics constantly and is ready to step in when criticism gets out of control. Typically, this works out well if the person is the manager or someone with a responsible position within the group. The mediator should be matured enough to understand comments and should strive to get through the correct interpretation of the feedback given. The most important point while mediating is that they should not favour any party. Because, people understand “taking sides” very quickly and naturally.
Can’t get personal:
The mediator can come up with “group rules” that say the manner people within the group should criticise each other. Such rules would include clauses like “Do not get personal with each other while reviewing their work!”. While criticising someone or their work, people should remember that the approach needs to be professional and should never become personal. Whatever the person does in his personal life is irrelevant at work unless it directly affects it.
Criticise – not oppose:
Criticism should not be aimed to prove that we are better than others and should not in anyway showcase opposition. A genuine person would offer to help his colleagues even though he criticised his or her work. And, this quality makes the person stand out as a team player.
Demand explanation when criticised:
There has never been a need to take criticism directly. Always ask politely, the reason behind the comments and feedback. This enables us to generalise feedback and helps us apply the same feedback to a variety of similar problems. If the criticism is genuine, then the person who said that would also be happy to explain his thought process. Asking for explanation helps in understanding the real intention of the person who said that.
Explain but don’t defend:
When criticised, do try and put forward your alternate views on the feedback. This does not mean we should try and oppose them or defend ourselves. Instead, we should state our thoughts and understanding and demand for more explanation and clarification. Sometimes, the person providing feedback may not know what you know and not putting forward your thoughts does not lead to a good final solution.
As a final point, in order for criticisms to work within a group, all members should have a sense of trust with each other. This sense of trust takes a long time to develop, but once it is in place, people will be more ready to accept others views and at the same time explain what they think. At this point, the whole discussion spans out to be constructive and outcomes are always positive and successful.